Fresh from the success of her latest sitcom, the actor, writer and campaigner talks to Jeza Belle for So So Gay.
So So Gay caught up with Emmy Award winning actress Fran Drescher, famous for her hit television show The Nanny. Fran talked about her popular new sitcom, Happily Divorced, which centres on her real life relationship with her gay ex-husband. In addition, she shared her thoughts on gay marriage, the future, and how to reduce the risk of cancer in our homes.
Happily Divorced is in its second season in the United States and is going global. How did you come up with the premise for the show?
The network asked me for an idea for a show if I were to star in it. Off the top of my head I said, ‘That would be the relationship between me and my gay ex-husband Peter.’ Then I asked if they wanted to hear the ideas I brought in to discuss producing. They said, ‘Why? We just bought that one.’ As soon as I left for lunch I called my ex and told him I just sold a pilot about our lives and I that I wanted him to come in as a full partner. Here we are with Happily Divorced in its second season!
In a world of reality TV, Happily Divorced is helping revive the sitcom. What made you decide to do another after your prior success with The Nanny?
Actually, I was not intending to do a sitcom at all. They called me in to write and produce so I wasn’t planning to star in anything this time. Once the network bought the idea and we started to develop and write the show, the more I wanted to play the character. I’m so thankful to be working on a project that makes people laugh, but at the same time speaks to the greater good of equality.
Speaking of laughter, you have great chemistry with your co-stars on the show; did it just click from the beginning?
We auditioned a lot of actors for the role of Peter. I was prepared to put the project on hold until we found the right person, even though everyone was pressuring me to just pick someone and move forward. I wasn’t interested in doing that. John Michael Higgins was finishing a movie and was not interested in playing another gay role after working hard to break from stereotype after playing his spectacular part in Best in Show. However, the idea of playing opposite me and playing a man that lives most of his life as a straight married man who comes out in his forties was interesting to him. He came in to read with me and we immediately had chemistry and the project just moved forward from there. All of the cast though are wildly experienced actors in television and beyond. We are all at the stage of our lives where we are grateful to be working on a wonderful production in a business that has changed so much. Our chemistry is born out of our happiness working in this collaborative art form.
On top of your co-stars, Happily Divorced has some powerhouse guest stars as well. Tell our readers what it was like working with British diva Joan Collins on the show this season.
Joan is fantastic! Not only does she look fabulous, but she is funny and great to work with. We hope to have her back next season as well. By playing herself, it opens up story opportunities for Fran and Peter. A big Hollywood diva of course interacts with other stars, and this will allow access to a number of celebrities that Fran, a florist, and Peter, a realtor, would otherwise not have.
Getting back to the premise of the show, the fact you remained friends with your ex Peter has been inspiring to so many. How were you able to manage this despite the circumstances of the divorce?
I like writing about what I know. For both Peter and [me] this has been a wonderful and cathartic experience. We’ve been divorced and he’s been out for over a decade. We have a strong foundation for episodes here that have real emotion at their root. Our brand of comedy is always rooted in real feelings and places. It’s nice to start with what happened to us and where we were at emotionally at different stages of our lives, post-marriage.
While we are on the topic of marriage, what’s your position on gay marriage in the United States?
It’s moving in a positive direction and it’s only a question of when… thank goodness! I’m a big advocate for civil liberties and this one is at the top of the list. This issue compromises our constitutional rights as American citizens. In the United States, everyone is free and equal. You should never justify marginalizing any group because they may not share your religious beliefs. This is not a one-religion nation. I feel on a broader scale, if we tolerate denying marriage to gay people we are slipping down a slope that endangers compromising the foundation on which this nation was built.
You should run for office!
I may in the future, but while I am on a show like Happily Divorced I am happy to speak out for the greater good within the world of my notoriety and to use it to bring attention to this issue.
Do you think you would ever remarry and what would you look for in a new hubbie?
I’m not opposed to marriage, if I found the right person. I’m looking for the five ‘S’s in a man: sexy, single, smart, successful and straight!
That sounds like a book! You are actually already an author: in addition to your book Enter Whining, a hilarious but poignant look at your life, you recently completed a children’s book entitled Being Wendy. Can you tell us about it?
Wendy is currently out on Penguin Books. It’s a book that was beautifully illustrated by Amy Blay, a resident of England. I was trying to leverage the ardent fans of The Nanny and spotlight the issues of bullying and intolerance. Whether someone has a different sexual orientation or is fat, thin, a different race etc. – this book speaks to all children and adults alike. It’s about a little girl that cannot think in a box. She’s different and has ambitions, unlike the people in her town. I recommend it to anyone who needs to hear the message that whatever you are, it’s okay, and you should be celebrated.
In addition to writing, you are a survivor of cancer. Tell our readers about the movement you started, Cancer Schmancer.
Cancer Schmancer is dedicated to helping reduce the risk of cancer through prevention and early detection. I would encourage all readers to go to our website and click on ‘Trash Cancer’, where they can learn how to reduce the risk of cancer for both themselves and their family by detoxing their home environment. The home turns out to be the most toxic place we spend the most amount of time in. Over ninety percent of cancers are environmental and by detoxing our homes, we can start to decrease the cancer rates together.
Give us a few Fran-tastic future plans for you.
The show, Happily Divorced, is now being sold in Brazil so we are working on that. Once we wrap this season I’m going to go to Paris, which I love. On top of that, I plan to just keep enjoying my life and my friends. I am also hoping to find a new love soon, so I’m putting it out there in the universe.